The Secret to Advanced Kung Fu… (Pursuit of Perfection)

3 05 2016

Here is a simple concept that should be common sense knowledge, but is instead a little-known secret:

The key to perfection–and mastery–of the arts lies in what is taught in the first year of training

Funny thing about Kung Fu people. Although we like to act humble, many Chinese style martial artists are not humble at all. And it seems that the more a Kung Fu student learns, the further he gets from humility. This key is often underused or even ignored–as most strive to “learn” more forms, “more” techniques, “more” weapons, “more” concepts and principles, “more” terminology. This pursuit of “more” is much like those who aspire for “more” rank and higher degrees of Black belts in the Karate world. The misconception is that the martial artist’s ultimate skill and ability will come from learning the right technique or forms, and sometimes–the right combinations of styles. The result of this philosophy is a mediocre skilled martial artist with very little fighting experience and ability, despite that he or she knows many forms and has multiple styles in his repertoire. As the student progresses, very little attention is given to the practice of “beginner” skills in favor of “advanced” skills and forms. For example, think of the last time you saw advanced kung fu students struggling to recall a lower level form or weapon. If that student understood this concept, his knowledge of the system’s basic skills would actually strengthen, rather than be placed on the shelf of forgetfulness as he advanced.

As a youth, I had once asked my Sifu about “advanced Jow Ga” right after I had arrived to the intermediate level. He answered that “advanced Jow Ga” was not much more than beginner Jow Ga done at a high degree of skill, and able to be applied in more ways than the simple. This was disappointing to me, as I expected to hear about secret forms and techniques that would make me unbeatable once I had learned them. In fact, when my Sifu began teaching me privately, I had just arrived to our 4th beginner level–which was an accomplishment in our school because it took 2 to 3 years to achieve. As I prepared for my Intermediate exam, I learned privately from him at least three days a week. The first thing he did was retrain me:  and not our first form, I might add. We literally started from the first thing one learns in a Kung Fu school:  the salutation. See, your salutation tells everyone watching you what’s to come. When martial arts students have taken care to execute a sharp and crisp salutation (arms balanced, stance strong, posture upright, power in the short distance from chest-forward), the rest of your Kung Fu will reflect that same attention to detail. When the student has mastered the simple Sei Ping Ma–feet parallel, knees pushed to the corners of the “box”, fists chambered all the way to the ribs, elbows tucked in, eyes focused in the right direction–the rest of his Kung Fu skill will be just as sharp. When these two basic things are allowed to slip or exist as weak and sloppy in one’s skill set, many other things will exist weak and sloppy. Teaching such a man “advanced”, complex skills will be a waste of time; like erecting a stone structure on lose, wet sand.

When judging form for tournaments, many will say that certain judges are unqualified to give scores because they do one style and the competitor does another. There is some truth to that. However, many principles are universal among similar styles. In Southern styles, for example, strong, balanced stances and hand placement are mostly the same. Some differences do exist though, like chambered fists resting on the hips in some systems and next to the lower ribs in others–but Kung Fu teachers can see when someone has put in ample practice versus someone who has not. Judges can see when someone has power versus someone who loses energy and defined technique as the form progresses. How would one best prepare for a competition: By practicing more forms, or by practicing the form you plan to perform more?

In teaching students who have had some prior experience in the martial arts, I have encountered many students who felt too advanced to learn my elementary level skills, like our Stance Training Form. However, everything in my system, from our first form to our Kwan Dao form, are resting on the foundation laid by the Stance Training Form. I have been practicing Jow Ga for 33 years, and I still include practice of the STF with my personal practices. This form builds strength in the legs, allowing the fighter to explode into movement from nearly any position, builds good posture and strength in the upper back. In addition to this, every advanced form relies on strong footwork for its techniques to be useful. Regardless of how much martial arts you know, you can always improve–even your basics. You can always get stronger, faster, more limber, develop more accuracy, cover more range and move more responsively. These things are basic skills, and without those simple basic skills, everything is weak. An advanced, acrobatic martial artist with a weak foundation is like a scholar with a wonderful vocabulary and multiple degrees who can’t spell or chokes up whenever giving lectures.

Remember, one can never get enough skill in the basics. Stance, footwork, simple hand techniques, flexibility, power, endurance, balance, and focus–all make the Kung Fu world go ’round. Don’t be one who is satisfied “knowing” advanced martial arts; be one who perfects advanced martial arts. As the saying goes, you must perfect the parts to master the whole. “Perfect” can be an adjective or it can be a verb. In the martial arts, perfect-the-adjective does not exist. Perfect is an action word, a process… It is a level that one will never reach if you are doing this right. The moment a Kung Fu man believes he has perfected the art and stops pursuing perfection–be assured that he has just begun his decline in the arts. It is this pursuit of perfection that delivers you to mastery.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.